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Less Latin, more liberation?

In the course of my Friday reading, I happened on two unrelated (but related?) stories in succession. The first, from Sharon Otterman on the New York Times site today, brings readers up to speed on the situation at New York City's Church of the Holy Innocents, which is on the archdiocese's list for possible closure and consolidation with another parish. That's not the story so much as is the fact that it's the only church in New York City offering a daily Tridentine Mass. But even that's not the whole story, which also features a visiting South African priest who might have spoken out of turn about parishioners' rights, his dismissal by his superior at the Vatican Embassy in New York, and his recall by the archbishop of Johannesburg. Not to mention recorded transcripts of the priest's remarks being forwarded to the archdiocese, questions over just why Holy Innocents--which thanks to its thriving thrift shop and generous donations operates at a surplus--is targeted for closure, and fears among liturgical traditionalists and conservative Catholics in general that these developments "may signal a return to a broader suppression of the Latin Mass after a period of being encouraged under Pope Benedict XVI." Read it all here.
The second story, from Ruth Chojnacki and Jennifer Scheper Hughes in Religion Dispatches, looks at developments that may signal an end to ecclesiastical suppression of liberation theology and practice in Mexico, citing the "striking statement" from CDF head Cardinal Gerhard Ludwig Müller "[placing] liberation theology in context with the work of the 'great Doctors of the Church like St. Augustine and St. Thomas.'” There's a lot of explanatory historical background in the piece, but the gist of it is here: 
..Mexican Bishop Felipe Arizmendi Esquivel announced that after a 14 year church-ordered suspension of the rite, indigenous deacons would again be ordained in the Diocese of San Cristóbal de Las Casas, Chiapas—where the local church serves a largely Maya population....
As a result of the dismissal of sympathetic hierarchs and the dismantling of progressive wings of the institution conducted in a climate of suspicion, liberation theology came to be understood as a failed vision, while the Vatican continued to pronounce it a false one. Before a gathering of Brazilian bishops in December 2009, Pope Benedict XVI declared liberation theology “deceitful.” After almost three decades of systematic Vatican suppression, liberation theology appeared to be dying.
When Francis welcomed [liberation theology founder] Gustavo Gutierrez to the Vatican last year, it appeared no more than a simple gesture of respect for the beloved and aging patriarch of liberation theology. But Pope Francis’ revitalization of the diaconal ministry in Chiapas indicates a deeper level of support.
If you haven't been following developments, the whole thing is here, and worth a read. 

About the Author

Dominic Preziosi is Commonweal’s digital editor.



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The San Cristobal story raises as many questions as it answers.  From my point of view, ordaining deacons is not tantamount to supporting liberation theology.  You can have either of those (deacons or liberation theology) without the other one.  The work the former generations of indigenous deacons were described as doing - evangelizing, catechizing, baptizing and so on - doesn't sound like my (admittedly sketchy) understanding of liberation theology; it just sounds like mainstream diaconal ministry to me.  If what they were doing was that kind of standard Catholic stuff, it's hard to figure why the Vatican would crush them.

Certainly, clergy taking up arms in an insurrection could be something that the Vatican could look at with skepticism.  Here in the US, deacons (and, I assume, other clergy) aren't permitted to even take part in peaceable political activities like running for public office.  The last paragraph of the story, "There are many who hope that these new ordinations will help to build a wholly “indigenous church” guided by the faith of the people “from below,” in liberationist terms, and overseen by bishops in collegial, rather than submissive, communion.", may also be a red flag.  It would be reasonable to (politely and non-confrontationally) ask someone  to clarify what is meant by that statement.

Having been raised with the Tridentine mass, I am NOT an aficionado.  Far be it from me to defend it, knowing how terminally exclusive it can be when it comes to the laity.

Having said that, I strongly support a few certain parishes being set aside to foster this mass for those who absolutely believe that they can only worship in that kind of environment.  I am a firm believer that uniformity is a bad surrogate for unity.

I would much rather see a few selected parishes dedicated to the EF than trying a Solomonic approach to having various styles of mass at most parishes as a sop to being all things to all people.  All that breeds is division and exclusion within an individual parish.

I used to know Holy Innocents, in the days before Summorum Pontificum, as a very busy weekday Mass hub for people who (like me) worked nearby in the Garment District. I was there for a lunch-hour Mass (ordinary form, English, for the record) when I learned that Ratzinger had been elected pope, and heard my first "for our Holy Father, Benedict" in the Eucharistic Prayer. I remember looking up at that very dingy painting behind the altar -- I'd love to see it in its restored state! Maybe I better hurry.

Whatever else you might say about Fr. Wylie, it is impressive that he managed to get anyone at all to pay attention to a homily that began "Dear friends – and mark well that I speak to you now from the prophetic heart of my sacerdotal paternity..."

It strikes me that what he's calling for is a challenge to the parish system itself: the idea that people who prefer the TLM constitute a community that ought to have a dedicated parish and pastor is at odds with the idea that parishes are geographically determined. There are other examples of this -- ethnic or language-centric groups, for example -- but still. It is hard to know what to make of people who will not worship with the parish communities they live in -- or find another one somewhere nearby they can feel more comfortable with -- but complain about being treated as if they were "schismatics." Setting yourself apart has its disadvantages. But post-Summorum Pontificum, they do have a case: Benedict certainly made a lot of headaches for his bishops with that one.

According to the article there are about 440 parishes that celebrate the traditional Latin mass at least weekly. I checked the data on how many parishes are in the United States. There are almost 17,500 parishes.

That means just 2.5 % of all parishes in the US have these masses. And this was AFTER Benedit's nudge with SP.

I am all for going after the 1 lost sheep but it seems a waste or resources to train priests and seminarians according to the old missal and be competent enough in Latin to boot. 

The existing mass can be celebrated in Latin,with incense, priest ad orientem if people feel that want that kind of expression. It isn't for me but it seems more doable and practical.

Sorry of this sounds indelicate but the resurgence  of the old forms seems to lend itself to liturgical fetishism. Sacrosanctum Concilium exists and was promulgated for a reason. There was widespread consensus that the very liturgy celebrated at this parish needed to be reformed. I never knew that mass and have no desire to attend. My mother, a convert, whose sensibilities I generally trust said she attended one and here sense was that it was chaotic, disorganized and impossible to follow. The choir  would be singing while the priest and servers were doing actions seemingly disconnected from the hymn and as for the people in there pew, they might as well have been watching a play.


I don't know how many of you young folks know the history of South America, so here's a brief history lesson.  Historically the South American countries were governed by oligarchies which took advantage of the poor dreadfully, and the South American Church was quiet about the injustices. Land reform was a particularly big issue in many countries.  Eventually Marxist revolutionists began to opposed those governments, and good Marxists that they were, they used violent means to try to overthrow the governments.  (Castro's revolution eventually succeeded.)  


In response to the situation, some Catholic theologians, including Bishop Gutierez  developed liberation theology, which favors the poor.  Many bishops classified that theology as Marxist, forbid its teaching, and forbid cooperation with the revolutionists.  What most of the bishops seemed to overlook was that though Christ opposed violence Marx and Christ have some main theses in common, e.g., that the poor deserve justice.  At any rate, some of the young clergy did preach opposition to their governments, and like Marxists, they actually helped organize the poor into political action groups.  Their bishops sat down hard on them.  However, some bishops did come to see the justice of the cause of the poor, though they opposed the violence.  Bishop Oscar Romero was one, and his opposition to violence cost him his life.


It seems that Bishop Bergoglio was one of the bishops who came down hard on the priest-political-organizers. But eventually he came to see that he had oversimplified things.  His love of the poor led him to see that he had made some serious mistakes (though he has never said explicitly what those mistakes were), and now he has actually honored Bishop Gutierez. 


In fairness, it should be noted that Cardinal Muller, who is in most ways a champion of the status quo, was a student of Gutierez, and he ought to be given credit for championing him.  One must wonder if it was he who persuaded Francis to change his mind about liberation theology.  (History can be ironic too.) 

As an American, I resonate to the suggestions of Jim McCrea and Molly that it's OK to fine for Catholics who like that sort of thing to have regular Latin Masses. (Very early on in the reforms, I made the motion for one Mass in Latin each Sunday but couldn't get a second from the monsignor in residence in our parish. Said monsignor eventually was Cardinal William Baum.)

 But as a Catholic, I am conscious every time I am at Mass that we are saying such innovations as "for many" and "incarnate of" and "under my roof," and my particular bugbear "suffered death" in the name of worldwide unity. So, on the one hand we have had to do violence to our vernacular in the name of unity, then on the other hand, we are supposed to smile benignly on a group of people who don't want any part of what we have to do. That could be somehow defensible, perhaps, but not when we have to do it because of the wailings of many of the same people who really don't want any part of what we have to do because of them.

Talk about having their cake and making the rest of us eat it.



I think it is the "300 registered parishioners"  that is most relevant to the decision.   My own small and self-sustaining parish in the Bronx is also being recommended for merger into a larger one.  In our case, I think the merger is problematic because the parish we're being merged in to, while physically adjacent,is also the one whose Church is farthest away from us compared to two other adjacent parishes. The church of the surviving parish is the only one not walking distance from me, and I live closer to it than most of my fellow parishioners.  It happens to be another upper middle class white parish, like my own and unlike the others; I can't help but wonder if demographics came into play in making these recomendations. 


George and Tom offer sensible comments above. 

1 lost sheep? What about the 50? A few small adjustments in inclusive language get deep-sixed, and even imprimaturs are ordered to be withdrawn. I don't believe for a New York minute this is about evangelization or recovering lost believers or lost beauty. It's all politics, and power. Liturgy is either a tool or an innocent bystander or collateral damage.

I don't see the problem with parishes determining their own fate. The archdiocese makes personnel decisions, obviously. At some point, a parish might be told they can't get Mass every Sunday. But two adjacent parishes could be told to work together to get it. That's a problem for a TLM community, I suppose. But like some Newman Centers and other special places, they draw from beyond certain lines on a  map anyway. Let them have their unreformed liturgy and all the problems that might go with that.

As for the deacons, the Vatican was alarmed that this particular vocation was attracting big numbers in dioceses that were making it a priority. How could deacons outnumber priests when according to Acts they were only 36.9% of the ordained? You never saw such an easy way into laicization as when Rome put the smackdown on the Latin American diaconate. (Even the ordination liturgy itself was called into question.)

I get that they don't like "boutique" parishes.  But they have them anyway, such as the Uniate rite parishes, and as Todd pointed out, Newman centers.  This one appears to be self supporting.  So why not just take the path of least resistance and let it be?  Boutique parishes actually serve a purpose, allowing people who may feel marginalized elsewhere to find a home.

Holy Innocents is in a neighborhood that a lot of people work in but very few live in - hence its tiny parishioner count. When I was working nearby, 9 years ago, they had something like 5 weekday Masses, more on Holy Days, but only 2 on Sunday (they always took up a collection on weekdays, since those were the folks that kept it going). That, I imagine, is a big reason why this TLM group ended up there: lots of room in the Sunday schedule, and not much of a parish community to disrupt. But the archdiocese probably sees an underused property in a "parish" with few residents, and a potentially lucrative sale. Hard to blame them for considering closing it, despite its recent popularity as a home for traditionalists.

As far as indigenous deacons in Latin America, actually anywhere else, too; bishops have a history of getting really, really edgy if the numbers of deacons increase beyond what they think they should be.  There have been a lot of temporary shutdowns in US dioceses to revise the programs.  As in plumbing or engineering, think "flow restrictor".  And it's odd that vocations offices really don't work much with potential deacon candidates, or even from what I've seen, with recruiting women religious.  They are pretty focused on one vocation only.

The youngest Catholics who remember the Tridentine Mass are now on Social Security.  As they die off, so will the demand for Latin Masses.

Kind of like the Republican Party's problem of trying to broaden their base beyond old white southerner males: as they die off, the GOP will either have to be more inclusive or go extinct.

So why not just take the path of least resistance and let it be?  Boutique parishes actually serve a purpose, allowing people who may feel marginalized elsewhere to find a home.

Fine, except that the archdiocese then has the responsibility to then staff the parish. That presents a challengin human resource problem as few priests have been trained on the extraordinary form, and again, given all the other pressing priorities I don't see this as high on the list. By pressing priorities, I mean that we are facing challenges of an increasingly secularized society so how to transmit the gospel in that context; divorce and remarried Catholics, and the host of other issues that are presented at parishes and require senstive pastoral outreach. I would rather see attention directed there. Training in homiletics would also not be a bad idea. And yes enhanced liturgy but lets focus on the existing one.

But, let's assume that you find priests how can deliver the extraodrinary form of the liturgy, then you have the added problem of their pastoral approach. Most of these groups are quasi SSPX and harbour some anti-Semitic, mysonginistic, and overall right wing views. Usually, the priest advocates on the internet anyway, are people that any responsible Bishop would want as far away from actual people as possible.

The last thing we need are these groups that have declared the Catholic form of jihad against the Second Vatican Council.

 Let's be very, very cautious.

In his motu proprio, or the letter, Pope Benedict asked that a review.

Furthermore, I invite you, dear Brothers, to send to the Holy See an account of your experiences, three years after this Motu Proprio has taken effect.  If truly serious difficulties come to light, ways to remedy them can be sought.

There are serious difficulties that have arisen and they centre around unity, practicality, dvisiveness, polemics. There should be a study commissioned on this issue. The remedy is to shelve SP. It did not bring the SSPX into the fold, they are still as rabid as ever, their rhetoric has not been tamped down. Nobody is clamouring for this except for groups with an anti-Concilar bias. And this is also not a grass roots movement from the laity but is being driven by clerics and associations in the Church with an existing agenda.

George D is correct and susposedly that feedback has now been given to Rome.  Where is it?  Why haven't we seen it?

It appears that the episcopal conferences (not all) did provide feedback.  My guess is that it was not positive, not reinforcing SP, etc. and so, Benedict and company have buried this part of that motu proprio.

Let's face it - SP was the work of one pope and as such can be undone by future popes.

And adding on to what George D said about the human resources problem, take a look at what is coming out of the Vartican about the synod on the family. There is phrasing about more pastoral counseling for divorced couples and better pastoral counseling for couples getting married and more pastoral understanding of homosexuality, and better pastoral insight into blended families. And one wonders, as their numbers diminish, where the pastors are going to find the time to get on top of, and deal with, all the more and better coming out of the synod.

They certainly aren't going to have time for it if they are giving adequate attention to the orientation of their altars, the number of inches of lace permitted for the various degrees of participants, angles of hand positions, numbers of bows and training altar boys (no girls) when to swing the censor and when not to, and how to ring them bells. The extraordinary Mass is very complicated. Beyond the capabilities of priests who squander liturgical time talking to the faithful about sex and marriage.

"There are many who hope that these new ordinations will help to build a wholly “indigenous church” guided by the faith of the people “from below,” in liberationist terms, and overseen by bishops in collegial, rather than submissive, communion."

"The ordination of deacons in the US has been largely a fiasco. With the deacons serving mainly at liturgy and forgetting their mission of servants. Placing the deacons at the service of the people builds community and the Body of Christ. Stressing that the deacons should do service to the poor and needy denotes a more authentic church where "the rich will go away empty and the poor shall be filled with good things."

The church of the poor is the church. Time for us imposters to get with it.

"Most of these groups are quasi SSPX and harbour some anti-Semitic, mysonginistic, and overall right wing views."

George D. --

Yes, this is too true.  I would go so far as to say that "the Latin Mass problem" in the Church is not primarily about the Latin Mass -- it's about the pro-Latin Mass groups whose members are too often anti-Semitic, mysoginistit, right wing, and anti-Vatican II reforms.  In other words, the Latin Mass is *not* the big issue for many, many of those folks -- the issue is old-fashioned social conservatism.  The Latin Mass just gives them a cause that is politically correct.     

In terms of Chiapa and the diaconate process - all kinds of questions come up.

Here is an interesting monograph on Chiapas, Catholic Church, and enculturation:

Would suggest that there are lots of reasons for why Chiapas was restricted and limited:

- Benedict's concept of both the institution and liturgy is heavily European

- Benedict questions enculturation (and, in this sense, he failed to implement SC and VII)

- Benedict had a tendency to centralize liturgical/sacramental decisions to Rome and when local bishops./episcopal conferences tried to grow the church via enculturation, he all too often labelled this as *giving in to secularism*

- the Chiapas bishop and his pastoral decisions ran into interference from a perdominantly conservative, instiutional Mexican episocpal conference (Chiapas was a threat to the status quo)

- when deacons outnumber priests, you begin to threaten a dominant CLERICAL institution which threatens the current power base

- the on-going tension between ordaining indigenous deacons which was not acceptable to Mexican clergy that saw the indigenious folks as less than full citizens of the church

- Benedict's decisions, in some ways, supported the folks in power rejecting the poor, rejecting enculturation; rejecting any form of questioning some of the historical patterns, etc.


I don't know very much about the Tridentine Mass, but doesn't it have what some would consider anti-Semitic bits?

The earlier version ...

Let us pray also for the Jews: that almighty God may remove the veil from their hearts; so that they too may acknowledge Jesus Christ our Lord. Let us pray. Let us kneel. Arise. Almighty and eternal God, who dost also not exclude from thy mercy the Jews: hear our prayers, which we offer for the blindness of that people; that acknowledging the light of thy Truth, which is Christ, they may be delivered from their darkness. Through the same our Lord Jesus Christ, who liveth and reigneth with thee in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God, for ever and ever. Amen

The 2007 version ...

Let us also pray for the Jews: That our God and Lord may illuminate their hearts, that they acknowledge Jesus Christ is the Savior of all men. (Let us pray. Kneel. Rise.) Almighty and eternal God, who want that all men be saved and come to the recognition of the truth, propitiously grant that even as the fullness of the peoples enters Thy Church, all Israel be saved. Through Christ Our Lord. Amen


Crystal --

That first text is only in the old Good Friday service.  The second one is its replacement.  

Ann Olivier:

Gustavo Gutierrez is not a bishop.

Hi Ann.  Even the replacement sounds kind of creepy.  But I can see where it would be a hit with the SSPX.

Thans, Gene.  

Crystal --  The replacement has also caused some friction.

Further to Chiapas and the deacons:

Katherine, re: increasing numbers of deacons and "flow restriction" - I can only say that it hasn't been my experience here in the Chicago Archdiocese which, contrary to what is asserted in the Religion Dispatches story referenced in the original post, had about double the number of deacons that the Chiapas diocese had in 2000.  We have something like 600 active deacons today.  

It is true that there was a (very) temporary 'shutdown' of our formation program about 15 years ago, but that was not because of heartburn over the number of deacons, but rather because new norms for diaconal formation had recently been promulgated by Rome, and Chicago's formation program took a break to get itself aligned to the new norms and requirements - which on the whole have been very beneficial to diaconal formation.  I believe that many American dioceses that have active formation programs (nearly all dioceses in the US do have active programs) went through a similar "reset button" process.  To be sure, there are a handful of dioceses (Madison, WI is the one I'm familiar with - please pray for them) that have discontinued diaconal formation because, well, apparently the bishop just doesn't like deacons, and a few others (Rockford, IL, which also needs prayers) that continue to ordain but aren't deacon-friendly and needlessly restrict diaconal activity.  But my perception is that these are exceptions.

Deacons are different beasts than priests, and my observation is that bishops believe they know how to manage priests but may be less confident about their ability to manage (and rein in, when necessary) deacons.  I would say that both parties, the bishop and the deacon, have a mutual obligation of communion.  Bishops need to understand that deacons aren't "mini-priests" and have very different ministries and lives than their priests.  Deacons need to understand that their attachment to the diocese and the bishop isn't just a theoretical construct empty of actual meaning.

I can well imagine that a large number of indigenous deacons servine a large indigenous population on behalf of a presumably non-indigenous bishop who may not be immersed in in the indigenous community's ways and customs, could be a management challenge for the bishop.  That challenge is not unique to Chiapas; we see something similar in Chicago, in which a growing body of Spanish-speaking deacons serves a growing Spanish-speaking population.  The parallel isn't exact, but I believe that some of the cultural and language challenges might have some similarities.

I would say that both parties, the church authorities and the deacons, need to work hard and in good faith to arrive at acceptable modes of management and oversight.  In my view, a bishop has a legitimate and necessary obligation to provide management and oversight, including restricting activity when necessary.  To be candid: some deacons really need to be managed :-).  

This challenge for the church authorities is broader than deacons; as more and more pastoral responsibility is assumed by laypersons, similar command-and-control challenges exist.  To take one practical example: because of the lack of priests, a lot of parishes in the US have daily communion services that are led by laypersons.  Some of them preach.  Have they received preaching formation? What are they preaching?  Bishops need to have a handle on these things, but I'd think it would be very difficult for them to do so.

Naturally, the Chiapas situation has another element: Roman intervention.  I'm really reluctant to comment because I don't know the specifics of what prompted it.  As I noted above, I think encouragement, much less active participation, of armed insurrection would be a gigantic red flag.  

I have a lot of other thoughts but this comment is way too long already.

Speaking of liberation:  Happy Gay Pride Sunday ... at least out here on the Left Coast.



There are other examples of this -- ethnic or language-centric groups, for example -- but still. It is hard to know what to make of people who will not worship with the parish communities they live in...

In fairness, however, that ship sailed a long time ago. Even setting aside the phenomenon of ethnic personal parishes (or even simply parishes that plainly cater to one demographic), Catholics have been parish shopping for years now in large numbers. You want praise and worship music? Church of the Transfiguration two highway exits down is where you go. Like the children's programs at St. Rita's? You drive an extra five minutes. Need to establish parishioner status for the school your children are applying to? You drive as far as need be. Traditionalists are really no different here.

You can condemn it as a consumerist model to worship, but canon law plainly permits it. And while being part of your geographic parish seems ideal in a certain sense (especially in terms of gas or metro fare being burned), I don't see the moral objection to going where you believe you're being spiritually fed and avoiding where you're not, so long as it's a valid canonical option. Folks who decry ecclesiastical diktat should feel discomfort with the notion that Catholics must be compelled to worship at their geographic parish.

On the larger question raised by the OP - "Less Latin, more Liberation?" I expect that there is less than meets the eye on either count here. Two data points do not a trend make, especially in the absence of formal legislation on either topic. Perhaps that is coming (and it might be); but it is not here yet. The ordination of indigenous deacons does not mean that base communities will suddenly be popping up among the Mayans like wildflowers, and the ADNY (while admittedly not terribly friendly to traditional worship) seems more likely trying to quickly cash in on the high property value of a particular parish during a financially strapped period. 

What is sacrosanct about a geographical parish?  Boundaries on a map are for convenience sake, nothing critical to the sake of one's immortal soul.  The idea that people are concerned about whatever canon law might say about who should attend which parish is laughable at best.

I hope said people are as scrupulous about contraception as they are about attending the parish whose boundaries happen to encompass their dwelling place.

It is nice to see RM Lender commenting here again.

"What is sacrosanct about a geographical parish?" I may be going to another parish other than my territorial one in the months ahead. I don't know exactly why, but I'm feeling really resistant to the idea. I don't even particularly identify with my current congregation- it seems kind of conservative and disproportionately White Republican for my taste.  But its like that saying "You can pick  your friends, you can't pick your family", my parish is kind of my family, and it seems important I don't shop around for a better one.

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